Sunday, 5 February 2017

Africentric school finally has a new principal

By Neil Armstrong

Luther Brown, Principal of the Africentric Alternative School    Photo contributed

Curtis Ennis, Superintendent, Toronto District School Board     Photo contributed

After being without a principal for the first half of the school year, the Africentric Alternative School (AAS) in Toronto now has one whose appointment has been welcomed by many in the African Canadian community.

Luther Brown, who was born in Jamaica and came to Canada in the late 1980s, has been with the Toronto District School Board (TDSB) for more than 25 years.

He has been a principal for approximately 15 years and just before taking on his new role at the alternative school yesterday (Feb. 1), was the principal of O’Connor Public School in east end of the city for six years.

Curtis Ennis, TDSB superintendent of the Africentric Alternative School, says the selection committee felt that Brown was the person that brought the most to the table in terms of leading this school in the next while.

“He was a very strong candidate. All of his references were just outstanding. I have certainly, like you, come across and heard from many community members how ecstatic they are that he was the candidate chosen,” says Ennis.

He notes that Brown has a strong sense of community and lots of grassroots organizations know him and know of his work.

“They know him as someone who is a strong listener and who is a strong supporter of our young people. They know that Luther, and I know, that he has led his school very admirably both at O’Connor Public School where he was last principal and his school has done very well in comparison to other schools in TDSB even though it was a school that had significant needs and challenges,” says Ennis who is also the superintendent of O’Connor.

Yolisa Dalamba, a parent who actively participated in the realization of the AAS, says she is thrilled that major changes have finally come. 

“It is our hope Mr. Brown will work with us to restore academic excellence, healing and cultural pride in our school that makes up for all the turbulence, especially our students, have endured since the school doors opened.”

She says she has heard many wonderful things about Brown and knows that he has been working to uplift our students and community for many years.

“We have very high expectations of Mr. Brown to work in partnership with parents and other stakeholders to uphold and realize Africentricity in our philosophy, pedagogy, and political and cultural practice, infused with the pan-African and anti-colonial legacies of resistance left by our ancestors. Some of those include anti-oppression, decolonization, resisting white supremacist values and breaking down systemic barriers.”

With Brown having done such a good job at O’Connor, Ennis said within five minutes of the letter that he sent home with students hitting their knapsacks, he got a phone call from a parent saying how upset they were and wanting to know what his plan was “to replace such a person like Luther.”

“It’s devastating for the O’Connor community but we’ll work through that piece. But it’s exciting for the Africentric community and we had a great need there. The school had been without a principal for the first half of the school year and so we’re just ecstatic that he is the chosen candidate.”

Ennis says Brown is going to work closely with the parents and him, in terms of the vision for the school, and “working with the elders in the community, working with the school council – we’re really going back to some of the original mandate of the school which really is high student achievement, high motivation for students and high student wellbeing.”

“We want our students to excel and to do well and I know Luther is a proven leader in that regard, in addition to leading and learning through an Afrocentric lens, and applying that to learning but still having high expectations for the students and having high achievements as a result of that. That’s what I want to see.” 

Explaining why it took so long to find a principal, he said the TDSB was actively looking for candidates to be the principal and was not successful in finding the right candidate until they decided to take a fresh approach.

Ennis said the parents agreed that they should post a position both internally and externally and through that process there were people within the TDSB, like Brown, “who decided, hey, maybe it’s time to step up.”

However, according to Dalamba, “parents and community members attempted to exercise our right as stipulated by the TDSB's alternative school policies and ensure a hiring process that is inclusive, transparent and equitable but were sadly disappointed by the TDSB as this was not honoured.”

She said there remains much work to be done but “we embrace the spirit of change and will continually work toward legacy-building for the future of our diverse Afrikan communities.”

Brown is married to Reverend Paulette Brown and they are the proud parents of three adult children.

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